A Washington think tank that bills itself as “independent and nonpartisan” actually “played a key role in selling the escalation of the war in Afghanistan,” The Nation magazine reveals.
The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) exemplifies a new influence game, writes Nathan Hodge in the March 29th issue. “Think tanks, once a place for intellectuals outside government to weigh in on important policy issues, are now enlisted by people within government to help sell its policies to the public, as well as to others in government,” he writes.
Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell, former Clinton administration officials, founded CNAS in 2007 and staked out a hawkish position on Iraq, Hodges said, opposing early deadlines for withdrawal. After Obama’s election Flournoy was named to the No. 3 post in the Pentagon and Campbell heads up State Department’s Asia bureau. What’s more, “no fewer” than 14 CNAS “grads” landed slots in the (Obama) Defense and State departments, Hodge writes.
Journalists who accept financial support from CNAS say the organization does not influence their thinking. Greg Jaffe, a Washington “Post” reporter told Hodge CNAS “had zero control or influence” over the content of a book he wrote profiling Army leaders.
But Thomas Ricks, a senior fellow at CNAS and long-time military correspondent, last February published an Op Ed in The New York “Times” calling for keeping 30,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for the long term. About the same time he broke a story on his ForeignPolicy.com blog that the top U.S. commander in Iraq had asked to keep a brigade in northern Iraq past President Obama’s deadline for the withdrawal of combat forces.
These actions came just as Ricks issued a policy brief on behalf of CNAS that “was selling the idea of a long stay in Iraq,” Hodge writes. Ricks is not alone. Since its founding, CNAS has subsidized a number of reporters from top dailies.
What’s more, it seems that “Institutions like CNAS are also heavily funded by major weapons manufacturers and Pentagon contractors, creating potential conflicts of interest rarely disclosed in the media,” Hodge writes. CNAS got “heavy backing” from the military industry, including major arms-makers Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Ratheon, and BAE Systems. It also receives funding from private security firms Aegis Defence Services and outsource champion KBR, famed for its shoddy work and overbilling in Iraq.
No one should be surprised, therefore, when CNAS president John Nagl and senior fellow Richard Fontaine wrote an opinion piece for CBS News which concluded, “When our nation goes to war, contractors go with it. We must get on with the task of adapting to this reality.” According to The Nation’s Hodge, CBS “failed to mention” that KBR and other contractors help underwrite CNAS.
Hodge goes on to say that CNAS has also emerged as “an important conduit for military commanders to reach key audiences and set the terms of the debate in Washington.” He noted that when Gen. Stanley McChrystal launched his sweeping review of Afghan strategy, he invited CNAS’s Andrew Exum, among other think tank payrollers, to join his assessment team.
“As newspapers close foreign bureaus and shrink newsrooms—threatening independent national security reporting at a time when the United States is involved in two wars—think tanks like CNAS have moved to fill the void in new and old media,” Hodge writes. Yes, indeedy! And since they’re on the take from the military-industrial complex, we can expect to hear that many more war drums beating across the media.
Sherwood Ross, a former reporter for the Chicago Daily News and wire services, is a Miami-based free-lance writer and public relations consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com
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